Devenee Schumacher and her personal trainer Sean Marszalek just wanted a healthy snack.

So Mrs. Schumacher, a culinary arts graduate, started experimenting in her South Park kitchen in August 2008 and ended up putting together a protein oatmeal bar that seemed to hit a sweet spot of good ingredients matched with good taste.

After a few more baking sessions, she started offering them to Mr. Marszalek’s other clients at his Strip District gym for $3 apiece. Within a couple of weeks, Mrs. Schumacher was making those bars by the dozens.

Within a month, “We were selling 600 to 700 bars a week,” she recalled. “I had a career and I had two kids, and I was baking in the morning and I was baking at night.”

She knew that couldn’t go on forever.

In one of the more unconventional paths for building a startup, Mrs. Schumacher and Mr. Marszalek worked out the details of a business venture as they worked out on a treadmill.

Less than six months later, with funding from friends and angel investors, they incorporated SDC Nutrition, a company specializing in 100 percent natural nutrition supplements well before terms such as “gluten-free” became household words.

Today, SDC Nutrition employs close to 40 people and recently moved into a new 60,000-square-foot facility in Findlay where the company makes, boxes and ships product throughout the eastern United States, as well as to eight other countries.

In the past year, they’ve established a board of directors and hired a CFO, a COO, an executive vice president for sales and a vice president for international sales.

“Honestly, we have always had the vision that we were going to take this company global,” Mrs. Schumacher said matter-of-factly.

That confidence is not bravado, said Mack McSheehy, a senior account executive for Berlin Packaging, which packages SDC’s products.

PG graphic: Top health care organizations
(Click image for larger version)
“They follow through on everything they say. Every little goal, they’ve accomplished,” said Mr. McSheehy. “I’ve been in the packaging business for 10 years and I’ve met a lot of startups. But their passion, their drive, their work ethic — they never stop.

“Knowing their passion and their work ethic, I believe anything is possible with them.”

While the privately held SDC isn’t publicizing its revenue numbers, CFO Ray Boyer said sales have doubled each year for the past four years, a rocket launch start by any measure.

“We’ve had a lot of people knock on our door unsolicited,” he said.

What SDC is selling is an all-natural line of products, made and tested at the Findlay headquarters. That self-sufficient, self-contained model is a big selling point, said Mrs. Schumacher. Many other companies will outsource some of that work.

“The consumer really wants to know what they are eating and what they are feeding their kids,” said Mrs. Schumacher.

At SDC, said Mr. Boyer, “We make it here. We know what’s in the bottle.”

Oh, and that protein bar? It has siblings and a name now. “About Time” — as in, “It’s about time someone made a healthy snack that tastes good” — comes in the original oatmeal protein form as well as a fruit nut protein bar and a variety of powders and lip balm.

They guard the recipe as closely as Colonel Sanders guarded the decidedly less-healthy secret blend of 11 herbs and spices for his famous chicken.

The ingredients are on the label, of course. The About Time fruit protein bar, for example, is sweetened with dates instead of sugar or glucose, and is made with egg white protein and unsweetened coconut. One 2-ounce bar packs 11 grams of protein.

About Time products are the leading seller but, in addition, the company makes and markets a powder for elite athletes sold in GNC franchise stores, called G6; a fruity protein drink powder called Splash; and a lower-cost protein blend, BME Labz, marketed as “the cleanest and best tasting all-natural protein in the industry.”

“In this industry, most people go after the gym rat type,” said Mrs. Schumacher. “We want to go after women who run three to four days a week. The ones who do yoga.”

The majority of their customers are supplement retailers, including the Pittsburgh-based GNC chain. Direct sales to customers, such as through the nutrition shelves at some Giant Eagle grocery stores, represent only about 10 percent of sales, but, Mr. Boyer said, “We plan on increasing that.”

They also have plans to set up their own pill manufacturing business and expand into the ready-to-drink market.

Mrs. Schumacher says it wasn’t until last fall, as they were about to move into the Findlay facility, that she took time to reflect on what they’ve accomplished. Thinking about their growth, making a product they believe in, creating jobs was what she describes as her “Wow!” moment.

“I would hope that most people would look at my story and say, ‘You can do anything,’ ” she said. “Hard work really does pay off.”

By Steve Twedt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette